Finishing up the week are two acts who don't have a whole lot of name recognition, but still made big splashes last year: Emperor alumnus Ihsahn and Los Angeles' Intronaut. Nary a radio hit to be found here, which is just how I like it.
Intronaut goes first with their brand of metal, and from the very first kick drum hit, I'm reminded of Mudvayne. This usually signals the end of the listening party right there, but I'm nothing if not thorough. Seriously, Intronaut is a deft group, and "Valley Of Smoke" is a solid achievement. The band's clean vocals -- droning harmonies -- anchor and overpin some manic yet fluid musicianship throughout. Intronaut spent the last half year opening for Cynic on their US tour, and this album is a welcome and complex companion piece to Cynic's 2009 album "Traced In Air."
Not to be easily outdone in the Challenging Listening Department is Ihsahn's "After," which at times borrows from Fredrik Thordendal and Animals As Leaders. Then again, about half the time the album sheds its pretensions and delivers simpler fare. Then again again, how many metal albums do you know of that feature a saxophone and fretless bass duet? "After" focuses its ambitions on diversity and subtlety, and in the process it offers out its own definition of 'progressive metal.' It's amazingly demented and all over the metal map, and it's one of those special albums that only reveals more of its secrets with subsequent listens. So while the Intronaut will feel more familiar, Ihsahn offers a more challenging (and ultimately rewarding) experience. They win today's round, and that ends our second week of metal. Next up, Iron fucking Maiden and James LaBrie from Dream Theater (accompanied by screaming, for a change).